New York Vibes In Paris

By Nick Carter

I’m going to lead with my conclusion early on: Roland-Garros this year is looking set to be something special, a major tournament we’ll remember for some time to come. 

This isn’t unusual, we’re still talking about the last two editions of the event now. Roland Garros usually produces at least one contender for match of the year every time it’s held. 

However, this event is giving me very similar vibes to last year’s U.S. Open, which was one of the best two weeks of tennis I’ve ever seen. The short version of the story in New York was there was plenty of drama early on in the men’s event, usually centred around Stefanos Tsitsipas, before the women’s event exploded. The match between Leylah Fernandez and Naomi Osaka was what really kicked it off, as the teenagers took the event by storm. Emma Raducanu’s run took off, Ash Barty’s exit opened the draw up, Fernandez continued to battle, Maria Sakkari and Bianca Andreescu played another epic and there was a memorable tie-break between Iga Świątek and Belinda Bencic. It all culminated in a memorable underdog final. The stories of the men’s event were the breakthrough of Carlos Alcaraz, the prospect of the Grand Slam for Novak Djokovic and the ominous form of Daniil Medvedev. As a result, any matches that didn’t involve Alcaraz didn’t hold much attention other than to watch how the big names were looking. Then the semi-finals came and Djokovic battled Alexander Zverev which many enjoyed seeing. The final was hotly anticipated, and ended up being historic, but not for the reasons people expected. 

Roland Garros 2022 is set up just as intriguingly for broadly similar reasons, even if the stories are different. The men’s event is about watching the progress of a small group of contenders (Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Alcaraz and Tsitsipas). The women’s event is proving to be highly competitive, albeit with a strong top seed that will take some beating, in this case Iga Świątek instead of Barty.  

There’s been plenty of drama early in the men’s event, but whilst it has involved Tsitsipas, the pool has widened. Tsitsipas, Alcaraz and Zverev have all come from behind to win in the early rounds. Alcaraz and Zverev had to save match points in their scares against Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Sebastian Baez respectively. Given all the big names are charging headlong into big quarter-final clashes, things could ratchet up even more. We’re all eagerly awaiting Djokovic vs Nadal, Zverev vs Alcaraz, Casper Ruud vs Tsitsipas and Jannik Sinner vs Daniil Medvedev in the quarter-finals, which seems pretty set on paper despite us only being halfway through round three. Djokovic, Nadal and Alcaraz all had very convincing wins earlier today, confirming their status as the lead contenders.  

Today showed you didn’t need big names to provide entertainment in the men’s draw. Spanish qualifier Bernabe Zapata Miralles defeated John Isner in five sets in a match that got very confrontational at points, which of course got the crowd involved. Later on, in a battle of the ‘random Masters 1000 champions’, Karen Khachanov and Cameron Norrie got into a real dog-fight as they went four sets in a match that featured multiple breaks of serve and emotional outbursts from both. Again, the French crowd loved it. 

It was the women’s matches today that made me think back to that 2021 US Open. On the surface, it was because today featured another vintage Leylah Fernandez battling victory. The teenage Canadian had a wonderful tussle with Bencic, which was defined by fast paced play and two big personalities going head-to-head. In the end, the Canadian scrapped her way to victory in a match that saw huge momentum shifts all the way through. This was then followed by an absolute marathon between Victoria Azarenka and Jil Teichmann, which lasted 3 hours and 18 minutes, by far the longest of the event so far. It was very reminiscent of Azarenka’s loss in the 2021 Indian Wells final, which also saw her lose a close, high-quality contest despite serving for the match. The Teichmann clash saw lots of big, clean hitting from both, building to an epic conclusion in a ten-point tie-break.  

Despite the bottom half of the women’s draw falling apart a bit, unlike last year’s US Open where the seeds actually held steady for the first couple of rounds, the quality of clashes has been very high. Look at Angelique Kerber’s memorable victory over Magdalena Frech in the first round, or Raducanu fending off emerging talent Linda Noskova despite the (slightly) younger player throwing everything she had at the US Open champion. Then there was Paula Badosa and Kaja Juvan in round two, which saw the Spaniard avoiding the shock defeats that befell her top ten counterparts Ons Jabeur, Sakkari, Garbine Muguruza and Anett Kontaveit. The two big matches today raised the standard even more. Even the Amanda Anisimova vs Karolina Muchova match was really good until the Czech’s unfortunate tumble made the result a foregone conclusion. Diane Parry also made a good go of coming back from 6-2, 5-1 down against Sloane Stephens in what was a dramatic end to their match. This is the benefit of having such depth of talent in the WTA right now, there are top quality matches almost from day one. If someone peaks high enough to push Świątek, that match will be awesome to watch. 

Whilst the ingredients are different, we’re starting to see a tournament with a very similar feel to the 2021 US Open. We saw the twists of Roland Garros 2021 during that second week, and how it made the event so special. Świątek’s exit opening up the opportunity for that feel good title for Barbora Krejickova, whilst the men’s event culminated in three very good matches, including that special clash between Djokovic and Nadal. If we see a repeat of those in 2022, it’s going to be a sporting masterpiece, combining the best elements of the best slams of 2021.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Roland Garros 2022 so far, and I can’t wait for what is to come in the next nine days.

On A Roll: Leylah Fernandez battled past Belinda Bencic to reach the fourth round of the French Open. Source: Eurosport

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